Taylor Cheney, the owner of Yalla, has had a busy month. When the Palestinian group Hamas launched an attack on Israel on October 7, killing 1,400 people and kidnapping 240, she understood that Israel’s response would likely be aggressive and lead to large numbers of Palestinian deaths. Cheney, who is not Palestinian but has traveled there many times and draws inspiration from the region in her cuisine, was possibly the first Seattle restaurateur to fundraise on behalf of Palestine. In the course of several events during a single week in October, Yalla raised nearly $7,000 for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF), a nonprofit that provides medical and other types of aid to children in Gaza and other parts of Palestine.
Since October 7, Israel has launched a war against Hamas and killed more than 10,000 Palestinians in airstrikes, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Many attacks, which Israel says target militants, have damaged hospitals or left them without power or supplies, drastically limiting their ability to treat trauma patients, cancer patients, and pregnant people giving birth. In the U.S. the war has led to heated arguments and confrontations among pro-Palestine and pro-Israel factions; incidents of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia both appear to be on the rise. A growing number of progressives, including some in the restaurant industry, are calling for a cease-fire and pressuring U.S. officials to do so as well, while pro-Israel voices argue that Hamas must be eliminated.
Cheney says that she received some blowback online for her fundraisers, largely in the form of negative reviews left on Yelp and Google, but that didn’t stop her from wanting to do more. Yalla serves all of its food out of a walk-up window on Capitol Hill, and Cheney’s capacity to raise money was limited by her small kitchen. Last week, she put out a call on Instagram for other restaurants to get involved.
“I’ve seen [fundraisers] all over, but I haven’t seen one here,” says Cheney. Restaurants have been raising money for Palestinian charities in metro Detroit and Chicago. Seattle “is supposed to be the wokest, let’s roll!” she jokes.
Days after that initial post, more than 70 restaurants, bakeries, bars, cafes, and other businesses throughout the Seattle area have pledged to support PCRF in some way. The form of participation is up to the businesses, though Cheney encourages them to do something in the next week. Examples include Saint Bread donating proceeds from its chocolate chip cookie sales from now until Sunday, November 12, and Lupo donating 15 percent of all sales this Sunday. Yalla is doing a pop-up menu on Sunday from 4 p.m. to sellout featuring dishes from Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan, all of which Cheney visited on a recent trip. Other big names that are fundraising include Homer, Local Tide, Pancita, Paper Cake Shop, Garzon, and both of Melissa Miranda’s restaurants, Musang and Kilig.
“It takes one or two very big names to get involved” to encourage that sort of participation, Cheney says. She credits Miranda as being one of those who signaled their support early on. “I knew other people would follow in her footsteps,” Cheney says.
Nadia Tommalieh, a Palestinian chef who is the daughter of a refugee, tells Eater Seattle that it’s been “just a joy to see all of this.” Tommalieh has known Cheney since Cheney was a chef at Mistral, and even loaned her money so that she could start Yalla.
“One of the things that I told her,” Tommalieh says, “is that if one day you open a place, it would warm my heart to see you giving back to the culture that you learned from. And I think she stood really strong on that.”
Tommalieh herself is donating the money she’s earning from a class she’s teaching at the Pantry on the olive oil harvest to the PCRF, and will be doing a pop-up at Yalla next week to raise additional money.
Tommalieh knows that there’s more that could be done to help Palestinians. “I feel great that all of these people stood up and decided to help out,” she says, “but I have to say that I was really disappointed by the lack of response from our representatives, who have failed to ask for a cease-fire.” Of Washington State’s congressional delegation, only Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who represents Seattle, has called for a cease-fire. Last week Democratic Senator Patty Murray aligned herself with President Joe Biden’s call for a “humanitarian pause” in Israel’s airstrikes; top U.S. officials have urged Israel to take steps to protect civilians in Gaza, with limited success.
But this Seattle fundraiser is not connected to a call for a cease-fire or any of the political arguments about the war or Israel and Palestine more broadly. Cheney’s primary goal was to get as many restaurants as possible to take some step to alleviate suffering during a humanitarian crisis.
“This is only to provide medical care for children, this is all we’re trying to do,” says Cheney. “Even if you don’t know everything about the situation, we all care about kids.”
See the list of participating restaurants here. For details on what a particular restaurant is doing to raise money, check that restaurant’s Instagram page or website.